Saturday, June 09, 2007

Stand up philosopher

Life has a purpose. Life has absolutely no purpose. Some believe the first statement. Some give up life, believing the second. Some who believe the first sometimes get disappointed and confused at not having found theirs. Most at some point decide they don’t give a fcuk either way and get on with their lives or parties or whatever.

Most hardworking people get up everyday, show up for work, put in their honest hours and head back home. Some spend time with their families and children, some spend it socializing, some research the stock market, others help people in their community, and yet others remind (or get reminded by) their spouses that their taxes need doing.

In all of this busy-ness of living gets lost the time taken to take a step back, to take a breather and reflect on where our lives and, in general, the society and the world are headed. Some even lament not taking the time to cherish their own families, count their blessings and treasure the small miracles that make everyday opportune.

We lose track of why we are who we are and why we do what we do. All that remains is “this is how it was done earlier and this is what worked, so it must be done this way again”. So many decisions are so familiar that they don’t remain decisions any more but become a set of repeatable reflexes. So, when someone recounts our actions doing something we consider routine and mundane, it almost surprises us. A video showing what we routinely do but never talk about confounds or amazes or embarrasses or surprises us.

Just as we reflect on our appearance in the mirror we must critique our actions through the eyes of another. Not just as individuals, but as a society, a nation, and a species.

But criticism is a bitter pill to swallow. When apprised of our flaws we typically become defensive and dismissive of our critics. Which in itself is not all bad; we probably have it acquired that behavior as a mechanism against misdirection. But more importantly, we do notice our flaws when looking in to the mirror, and often, we are the only ones who see it.

It is a special kind of person and medium that can render society’s actions back on itself; most commonly it is an artist and art: paintings, poems, prose, movies and the like. Often it is a preacher on his pulpit or a politician on his soap-box, but neither is paid lasting attention to because their message is often lost in the bitterness of their arguments.

We seem to respond best when our short-comings and idiosyncrasies are presented to us with a generous twist of humor and irony. Oscar Wilde perhaps alluded to this best when he said “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.” That is perhaps why comedians make the best philosophers. Think about it: when you aren’t learning valuable lessons about life and yourself, you’re having a good laugh! Sounds perfect doesn’t it?

While I’ve been fortunate enough to have watched some of my all time favorite comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Russell Peters perform live, I still hope to someday watch my current chart-topping comedian: Craig Ferguson. In case you don’t already know, he hosts Late Night with Craig Fergusson on CBS weeknights 12:30 CST (Sounds like an advertisement, doesn’t it?).

So what made me notice Craig’s comedy apart from the funny jokes, the Scottish accent and the odd pot-shot at Prince Charles, Sean Connery and the Queen? His honesty, sincerity and integrity.

When Britney Spears was having her meltdown with shaving her head et al, almost every comedian (on TV or otherwise) was foaming at the mouth and jumping on the Britney-bashing bandwagon, Craig came out with a direct, heart-felt message to her: get help.

(I started writing the blog right after the show but have been unable to finish it for one reason or another, but here it is finally)

Now, the cynic in me questions his integrity and motive behind not making fun of a celebrity just asking for it with her actions. But then, think about it. Even if he is being just a smart business man and differentiating himself from the crowd and taking the moral high-ground, what he is doing is, in my book, “the right thing to do”. So the human optimist in me overrules the cultural materialist and agrees with my gut: he is being honest, sincere and scrupulous. After watching the segment above, he rose in my personal rankings above the others because he earned my respect.

And while Mel Brooks through his rendition of Comicus in “The History of the World – Part I” dismissed philosophers as “bullshit artists”, to me comedians (even Mel Brooks) remain true philosophers.

Craig Ferguson, you truly are, in every good sense of the phrase, a “stand up philosopher.”